Copper Canyon Book Reviews by Carl Franz

Northern Mexico Handbook

Northern Mexico Handbook : Including the Copper Canyon by Joe Cummings, 2nd ed. 1998, Moon Publications….

I don’t have exact statistics, but anyone who has ever rubbed elbows with the crowds at Cancun and Monte Alban knows that the vast majority of tourists bypass northern Mexico and travel directly to the country’s better-known beach resorts, archaeological sites and central colonial cities. With the exception of day-trippers to Tijuana, Juarez and other easily accessible border towns, this leaves a vast and mostly unvisited region I call ‘Unknown Mexico’ (the title of Carl Lumholtz’s classic study of the northwestern Sierra Madre).

Moon Publications’ travel ‘handbooks’ have a very good reputation for accuracy and near-encyclopedic detail. As a matter of fact, I shudder to think of how many notebooks the author must have filled to compile this 500 page guide. In covering nine very large northern states (over 50% of Mexico’s territory, including all of Chihuahua and the Copper Canyon), veteran travel writer Joe Cummings leaves very few stones unturned. Northern Mexico Handbook offers everything from succinct advice on the most important nuts & bolts of travel in Mexico to brief but well-researched descriptions of cities, historical sites, hiking trails, highways, hotels and restaurants, beaches and especially interesting ‘biotic communities’. Also included are lots of easy-to-follow maps “to every city, region and park”, a very good index and reading list, and even a photo of the author ? looking remarkably rested after what must have been truly exhaustive research.

The Northern Mexico Handbook is clearly a winner. Both Joe Cummings and Moon Publications are to be commended for offering such a substantial work on a region of Mexico that is too-often ignored by both tourists and travel writers.

Order Northern Mexico Handbook : Including the Copper Canyon

Mexico’s Copper Canyon Country

Mexico’s Copper Canyon Country: A Hiking & Backpacking Guide by M. John Fayhee, Revised Edition 1994, Cordillera Press

To date, this is the only book dedicated to backpacking and day-hiking in theCopper Canyon region (although the Northern Mexico Handbook does include the better-known trails). As a hiker, John Fayhee has definitely covered a lot of ground in the Copper Canyon. Unfortunately, the book too often reads as though the author suffered from an overdose of his favorite beverages. In addition to loose attention to facts, the Spanish is particularly bad!

This isn’t to say that Fayhee can’t deliver when he manages to focus his attention. For example, his comparison of the Barranca del Cobre region with the Grand Canyon of Arizona is both informative and entertaining. In general, however, the book is notably barren of background information, local color or detail. The author recounts page after page of hiking/boozing exploits, but limits his observations on the region’s history, culture, customs and wildlife to such outrageously banal statements as, “The missions in Tarahumara-land are cool…”

For all these gripes, Mexico’s Copper Canyon Country has its uses. Fayhee does best when he drops his mock-macho style and applies himself to the job at hand, namely, providing useful information about hiking in the Copper Canyon. For example, the “Particulars” section at the end of most chapters is usually a clear-headed summary of practical tips, contacts and need-to-know information.

Let’s hope that the next edition of Mexico’s Copper Canyon Country benefits from a sober-eyed editor. In the meantime, I’d grab a sharp razor knife and chop it down to a no-nonsense size for backpacking.

Order Mexico’s Copper Canyon Country: A Hiking & Backpacking Guide by M. John Fayhee….

The Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico

The Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico: Tierra de Encuentro by Richard D. Fisher, 1998, Sunracer Publications.

The most recent edition of this large format book is notable both for its striking photographs and absence of index or page numbers! Fortunately, these are minor flaws: on the plus side, Mexico’s Copper Canyon offers an excellent pictorial review of the region, useful ‘tourist tidbits’, interesting essays, maps and a point-by-point log for the popular trans-canyon rail trip. The book also includes brief but valuable material on outlying points of interest. With most media attention tightly focused on the Copper Canyon, relatively few tourists realize that the state of Chihuahua (and its neighbors) holds a wealth of interesting towns, villages and tierra desconocida (unknown country).

In addition to guiding and photography, Rick Fisher devotes a considerable amount of his time and energy to the ’cause’ of Tarahumara long-distance running. Recent victories by Tarahumara runners in Colorado’s Leadville 100 mile footrace have stimulated a great deal of interest in this endangered tradition ? both among the Tarahumara themselves and the international running community. This latest edition of Mexico’s Copper Canyon includes photos and interesting background on the winning Tarahumara teams.

Missing page numbers or not, Mexico’s Copper Canyon is not only an attractive and thought-provoking overview of the region, it also makes a great souvenir book to impress your stay-at-home friends and family.

Order The Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico: Tierra de Encuentro

Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre

Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre: Survivors on the Canyon’s Edgeby John G. Kennedy, Professor Emeritus, UCLA, Asilomar Press.

A description of the life of the most isolated Indian tribe in North America by a noted expert on the Tarahumara. Order Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre

Life Through the Eyes of a Tarahumara

Life Through the Eyes of a Tarahumara by Romayne Wheeler, 1993, Editorial Camino.

A book of wisdom, poetry and personal experience by an internationally recognized composer and musician who lives among the Tarahumara. Available in Creel at the Tarahumara Mission bookstore…

Trails of the Sierra Madre

Trails of the Sierra Madreby Eugene Boudreau, 1973, Capra Press and Pleasant Hill Press.

Like other thoughtful writers on Mexico’s backcountry, Boudreau’s out-of-print books are timeless. Also good: Ways of the Sierra Madre, R.F. Grigsby’s Sierra Madre Journal: 1864 and Move Over Don Porfirio: Tales from the Sierra Madre. (out of Print) Order Trails of the Sierra Madre from Powell’s in Portland

Unknown Mexico

Unknown Mexico: Explorations in the Sierra Madre and Other Regions, 1890-1898 Vol. 1 by Carl Lumholtz, 1898, Dover Publications, Inc.

One of my all-time favorites, a turn-of-the-century classic detailing explorations in the Sierra Madre of Northern Mexico. It is a measure of how isolated the Tarahumara have been that Lumholtz’s observations on their customs and ways of life are still valid today. Order Unknown Mexico from Powell’s in Portland